The History Of Haystack… And Why Online Censorship Will Remain Difficult
from the there-are-always-holes-in-the-wall dept
Over the years, it’s been fascinating to watch the battle over internet censorship, monitors and filters, along with the equally rapid attempts to get around all of those things via technology. Many folks are familiar with anonymous proxies, like Tor, which do help provide anonymity, but can still be blocked once the censor is aware of the tor node. If you follow this space, you’re probably already aware of Haystack, which is, in some ways, a step up from Tor and has been getting more and more attention lately. Newsweek actually has a pretty good article on the history of how Haystack came about, involving a 20-something programmer who had little interest in political activism or Iran, until he started seeing the various protests and responses after the Iranian election. Something clicked, and helped along by a “disaffected Iranian official” who sent him the details of how Iran’s internet filter worked, and led to Haystack, which hides traffic inside what looks like legitimate traffic (and, in the case of Iran, is specifically designed to hide in traffic that is popular in Iran).
What struck me most about the story is just how improbable a story it is if you look at it in a vacuum. We’re talking about a 25-year-old guy, with little interest in Iran or activism, suddenly scratching an itch — and within a week he had an Iranian gov’t official leaking him information that was useful in building a system that could get around the Iranian internet censorship filter. That’s impressive, no matter how you look at it. It also highlights why it’s always going to be difficult to successfully censor the internet on a wider scale. Someone, perhaps from a totally unexpected place, is going to figure out how to get around it.